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Assessment of the Role of Silence in Business Interactions

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Silence influences either negatively or positively in the field of communication. It can make or break relationships, create discomforts and tensions, or lead to peace and calm. Silence can denote either yes or no. The apparent silence is not really a void – it is a powerful means of communication; you are sending out a message to the other one through your clothes, facial expression changes, and even the way one is sitting – this all indicate boredom, interest, animosity, or indifference. Even without making any efforts, the volumes of information pass to and fro through silence. Silence is the opposite of talking. But it is not negative – it is not omitting out anything in communication. Silence does not become a barrier to communicating (Panko, R 2009).

Silence is a vibrant tool for the communication in business. Business is basically a deal involving money and goods’ transactions that will ultimately benefit both parties as well as the community. With both parties trying to squeeze out the maximum tempers might easily get frayed. But a good businessman knows that growling is received from nowhere. Here silence is invaluable as it leaves the issue pending and unanswered, and yet a message is conveyed being more powerful than blunt words (Applbaum 2004).

Communication may be either verbal or non-verbal. Under the latter, facial expressions, postures, gestures and voice tone are included. These are the important tools in business interactions. A small businessperson can use it for getting across a message or to interpret a message that has been received. Sometimes, however, the non-verbal communication contradicts with the verbal one in a sense that silence is more evocative and truer than the string of words. A study provided by Herta A. Murphy together with Herbert W. Hilderbrandt has noted this in Effective Business Communication. In fact, from 60% to 90% of the gist of content can be conveyed through the silent clues. Hence, the importance of silence in business communication should not be overlooked but given due its importance (Andrad 2004; Mitchell 2004; Stafford 2004).

In the non-verbal communication, three elements are present – the appearance, the body language, and sounds (not words).  As with the oral communication, in the non-verbal interaction the appearance has an impact on the dress code, make up, grooming, hairstyle, etc.; this could play its part in drawing the attention of the listener. The décor of the room too will have a telling effect on those people listening (Barr 2000).

The body language, in particular facial expressions, can convey direct messages that the verbal part of communication will not be able to give. The expressions flitting across the face show up the hidden emotions that could be in contradiction with the spoken words. Gesturing and posturing as well are the important conveyers of messages; they are being more evocative than words. For example, a manager speaking with his feet on the table could indicate confidence and determination, while an employee leaning forward on the table to listen could mean that he or she is interested. However, the continuous use of gestures and postures could be distracting and disturbing while betraying nervousness (Berkovitch 2006; Narayanan 2006). 

Thirdly, the non-verbal sounds play an important part in interaction: the tone, the rate, and the volume of voice and even laughter clearing of one’s throat or humming can be communicative by its nature. The effect of scent and physical contact like the pressure during a handshake can speak volumes silently. The total silence can convey a gap in understanding and even some harsh feelings, while discussing face-to-face (Chamberlain, K 2009). 

People rarely think that failing to act is a kind of communication. The non-verbal communication, unlike the verbal one, is not organized. Currently, the studies are being carried on the information dispatched through the non-verbal means. Communication means the transferring of information from one person to another one. The majority spends nearly three fourths of their waking time communicating their thoughts, knowledge and view points to others. Many fail to note that the bulk of this transfer is through some non-verbal means and not through writing or talking (Benton 1994).

The silent way of communicating is through an eye contact, the voice tone modulation, posturing, etc. It also refers to the clothes one chooses to wear or the silence that is intentionally kept. The non-verbal cues, while interacting, are given more importance than the verbal ones. For instance, a person might wish you to be well but the expression in his eyes does not say so; his clenched fists belie his animosity although words may be honey coated (Chamberlain, K 2009).

Silence is often beneficial while interacting in business circles and at workplaces. Attention is drawn invariably to the silent person during his speeches. Silence can control anger; and this is vital in the business world where emotions have to be tempered while handling deals and difficult situations. Silence represents a passive dissent although no direct challenge is thrown (Chamberlain, K 2009).

Silence can be used not to greet an unwelcome intruder without being explicit. By being silent the astute businessman can avoid a topic without commitment. Silence can cut a short irrelevant chatter that wastes the time. Silence can indicate that the subject is a taboo. To be a top grade leader of the team, the manager has to successfully interact with other members. Silence is one such methods of communication (Foss, NJ 2005).

Distance is a factor. The gap between one person and the other one signifies either attraction or a status – depending on the milieu or the cultural background. Orientation is another factor. It means how the one is presented – frontal, sideways or sometimes showing a rear portion implying volumes. For instance, cooperators sit side by side while competitors sit facing each other. Posture is another point to note. One may slouch, while the other one may be sitting or standing erect. The crossing of legs and arms akimbo also convey emotions. This communication sends the message of formality or relaxation during the exchange of communications (Mason, M 1999).

Physical contact is vital. The shaking of hands, the pat on the shoulders, the embrace, the pushing back – all are laced with the inner language. It conveys either an intimate feeling or a sense of rejection. Then, there are the all powerful facial expressions, the smile, the frown, the raised eyebrow, the yawn and the sneer. During the interaction, the facial expressions keep continually changing, and the recipient constantly notes it. Across global cultures, the facial expressions more or less convey the same type of meaning. The movement of hands conveys its meaning as well (Berkovitch 2006; Narayanan 2006). Some of the meanings are specific to certain cultures, while others like the clenched fist have a universal connotation. The importance of eye contact cannot be over emphasized. The eyes are the windows of the soul. They convey interest, indifference, boredom, hatred, or warmth (Andrad 2004; Mitchell 2004; Stafford 2004).

Kinesis or body language is one of the best ways to gauge the managerial potential of the executive. It is more important to note what he is doing rather than listening to what he is saying. This is an analysis of movement. If one extends a hand straightly during the interview, or if one leans forward, then the person can be a good operator for any organization that requires the injection of energy to bring about a radical change (Galbraith 2000). While shaking one’s hands if one stands up straightly then the person is good at selling – whether himself or the company in which he is employed. If, while talking, the person occupies extra space with moving around the arms, then he is both good as an informer and listener. Such an individual will be ideal for an organization that needs a change in the direction it is leading (Panko, R 2009).

Many are now learning to rehearse these movements to make an impression but when there is the disharmony between the facial expression and the limb movement the cat gets out of the bag and the trick is exposed. Spacing is an important factor.  Those higher up in the ladder will keep a bigger gap and will keep to the improved protection of the territory; they will not have any difficulty in invading the territories of those lower ones in the rung of the ladder (Mason, M 1999).

Silence can be communicated through the environment – tables, chairs, desks, bookshelves, and the like drawing into its ambit the design of the office. Some cut up the office into impersonal and personal areas. This betters the purpose for which the particular space is utilized. The size of the desk, for instance, indicates the status and the position of any user. The window numbers, the carpet quality and the wall paintings – all silently convey a message. Another factor is how long the one is being silent. How much time do you need to allow your staff to speak; how long will you keep them waiting, and do you stick to the time-schedule? In a healthy business atmosphere, there is a balance among all these elements (Foss, NJ 2005).

In conclusion, it should be noted that many find silence as oppressive and rush in with uncalled for the words to fill such kind of void. Thus, it is better to say nothing if you have nothing to say rather than rattling like an empty vessel. But it is the silence of Socrates when he said he did not know anything that cost him his life. Thus, we see that silence is not a vacuum but pregnant and poignant with its meaning much more than the empty vessels making a lot of noise. The executives in the corporate sector are now becoming more and more aware of the significance of silence through the non-verbal communication. They are engaging professionals into the field to do the analysis. 

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